Maroons (Photo: Fabrice Monteiro); Background Image: Slave Whip c.1863, Courtesy of Smithsonian Institute, The National Museum of American History
In America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America, Rev. Jim Wallis — a public theologian, political activist, and founding editor of Sojourners magazine, addresses the numerous reports of white police officers shooting black Americans, such as in the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Laquan McDonald in Chicago. He argues that the events are part of a legacy stretching back to slavery.
Wallis points out that the majority of white Americans see the shootings and violence as isolated incidents, while most African Americans see them as part of their daily day-to-day lives. To make his point, the author includes his personal experience as a young man meeting Butch—a fellow custodian in Detroit. He recalls eating dinner with Butch’s family and hearing about “the Talk” in which African American parents told their children to avoid police officers if they were ever lost. For Wallis, the advice from his parents was the exact opposite. “That difference of perspective told me I had indeed grown up in a different world,” Wallis says. Wallis also contends that this type of white privilege has not gone away, and furthermore, it is a legacy of white supremacy.
Another example in the book comes from the esteemed African American lawyer, author and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson. In his book Just Mercy, Stevenson recalls pulling up in front of his own home in Atlanta after a long day and taking a pause to listen to music before heading inside. He was violently confronted by a police officer who did not believe it was his home. Stevenson avoided arrest, but only after being patted down. As the officer walked away, he said, “You’re lucky this time.” Of course, Wallis has never been violently accosted by the police or asked to prove his residence. His whiteness affords him a level of security unknown to blacks Americans.
In an interview earlier this year with NewsOne Now host Roland Martin, Wallis told Martin that original sin is not just slavery, but the “deliberate dehumanizing and debasing” of African-Americans and the attitude that “Black lives and bodies don’t matter.” He added, “That was one of our founding principles as a nation, that Black lives and Black bodies don’t matter; you see that in all our headlines today. This original sin lingers on, that’s why we got to call it sin and talk about repentance from sin.” Wallis also explained that, “slavery never ended, it just evolved,” saying that “mass incarceration is the current evolution of slavery.” He also noted that the “deliberate disenfranchisement” of prisoners, gerrymandering, and other forms of voter suppression are tactics used to keep certain “demographics from changing America.”
In America’s Original Sin, Wallis offers a prophetic and deeply personal call to action in overcoming the racism so ingrained in American society. He speaks candidly to Christians–particularly white Christians–urging them to cross a new bridge toward racial justice and healing.
Whenever divided cultures and gridlocked power structures fail to end systemic sin, faith communities can help lead the way to grassroots change. Probing yet positive, biblically rooted yet highly practical, this book shows people of faith how they can work together to overcome the embedded racism in America, galvanizing a movement to cross the bridge to a multiracial church and a new America.
✿ Book: Just Mercy | Bryan Stevenson
Jim Wallis is an author, activist, preacher, teacher, and pastor. He is a best-selling writer, convener of faith-inspired movements for justice and peace both outside and inside politics, public theologian in a secular culture, renowned speaker in the United States and abroad, and international media commentator on ethics and public life. He is the founder and leader of Sojourners, a publishing platform, organization, and global network whose mission is to put faith into action for social justice. Wallis has written more than ten books, including The (Un)Common Good and the New York Times bestsellers God’s Politics and The Great Awakening. He has written for major newspapers, does regular columns for top digital news networks, and appears frequently on a wide variety of television and radio networks. Wallis also teaches at Georgetown University and has taught at Harvard University. He is husband to Joy Carroll, one of the first women to be ordained a priest in the Church of England, father to two teenage boys, Luke and Jack, and a decades-long Little League baseball coach.